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Encouraging Personal Responsibility

The transition from high school to college is both an academic and social process. For the first time, students must independently steward their own academic success. At the same time, they must build a new network of friends and colleagues. Development of a local support network is an essential step to success and understandably something in which a good deal of time and energy is invested (Beyer, Gilmore, and Fisher, 2007).

UC Merced student smiling

Many college students embrace this challenge. Others find it initially very difficult to manage schedules and identify academic priorities, particularly in the face of competing social interests. Supporting freshmen in this transition toward independence depends on faculty being clear about expectations. Please find below instructional strategies and resources for helping freshmen with assuming personal responsibility for learning. If you have a practice to contribute, please contact Adriana Signorini, by email, by phone 209-228-4766, or in person in Academic Office Annex, Room 111.

Anchor Teaching Tips:

  • Explicitly state and explain to students that they are responsible for their learning. A sports analogy may help with this; althletes learn to play through practice not by sitting on the side lines. Learning similarly requires action. Only through using your brain, can you bring about the physical change in your brain that is learning.
  • Invest some time at the start of the semester discussing learning with your students. What are their learning goals for the class? How do these relate to the desired outcomes described on the syllabus? How do they relate to their goals for their major and the faculty's goals for the major as articulated in the program's learning outcomes? Their careers? Periodically have the students reflect on their progress regarding both their and your goals for their learning.
  • Design your syllabus to describe assignments and grading criteria in relation to learning outcomes.
  • Provide clear directions (both written and verbal) for all assignments. Allow time for questions since assignments often present comprehension issues.
  • Apprise students of the time they should expect to devote to particular tasks, for example, the amount of time they should spend reading on a weekly basis. Have students reflect on the time they spend on select assignments. If, for individual students, assignments are taking much longer than expected, it might be a sign that additional help would be beneficial.
  • Model the kind of thinking and skills you want students to develop, explicitly sharing how professionals in your discipline approach their work. For example, verbalize how you analyze or solve a problem or explain how you, as a professional, approach reading a professional text or paper.
  • Prioritize expectations and stick to them.
  • Continue to reference established, shared expectations when discussing work with students. Rubrics can be effective in this regard.
  • Articulate your expectations in multiple formats and forums, returning to them regularly throughout the semester.
  • Administer mid-course evaluations (or informal in-class surveys). These mid-semester evaluations are an effective way to establish dialogue with students about expectations and potential changes. The following set of evaluation samples encourages students to reflect on habits and take ownership over their learning: complete survey or abridged version ; this is meant to be a resource that is adapted to faculty needs.


Harvard University: How to prepareĀ for class